Restore Dyckman Marina


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March Madness

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”

– Widely Attributed

As we enter March 2019, the future of the Dyckman Marina concession for the summer season remains unclear.  The current holder of the license, a shell company called Manhattan River Group, is in all sorts of trouble following the problems of summer 2018 (not to mention the problems of all six summers before that).  
 
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La Marina is shut down in 2018

 
First they were told by Parks to stop hosting a massive and illegal valet operation and grossly improper ticketed concerts in the beach area.  Their response?  Sue the city for $2 million in damages — for revenue lost from not being allowed to do things they were not supposed to do in the first place.  That is not the action of someone that is your partner for operation of a public concession.
 
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A valet operating on public streets

 
Then they had their liquor license seized by the State Liquor Authority, largely triggered by the fall 2018 drug bust.  Again, not something that usually leads to keeping a concession agreement.  In fact, the prior concession license was terminated for exactly this reason.
 
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MRG’s bankruptcy petition

 
Finally, Manhattan River Group declared bankruptcy.  This is almost beyond comprehension, given that they were one of the most profitable concessions in the city bringing in millions every summer.  Look at this 2018 revenue report – over a million in revenue for a single month in June (almost none of which was for valet or beach concert rental, by the way) and yet at the end of the year they owe $600,000 to creditors, including $200,000 in back rent (a measly 8% of revenue) to the city?  Those creditors, by the way, include a number of families who gave wedding and bar mitzvah deposits — read this particular letter from a couple about their wedding deposit and Manhattan River Group’s response, and the ensuing response from the couple.    
 
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MRG partners Mateo (l) and Rosen (r) with a concert DJ performer

 
Despite the years of outrageous problems, the lawsuit against the city, the multi-agency raid, the shooting, the drug bust, the bankruptcy and the Community Board resolution begging Parks to terminate the concession agreement, as of February 2019 the Parks Dept has still not cancelled the concession license with Manhattan River Group. 
 
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A Brother Jimmy’s storefront

 
Instead Manhattan River Group (which is comprised solely of partners Josh Rosen, Jerald Tenenbaum, Fernando Mateo and Chris Villano) has appeared at public meetings saying it is their intention to “restructure” and partner with a new restaurant brand for the 2019 season in a bid to save their very lucrative contract.  They appeared at a February CB12 Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting introducing the BBQ chain Brother Jimmy’s as one possible idea.
 
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MRG partners Rosen (l) and Mateo (r) at La Marina

 
Letting MRG partner with anyone makes no sense.  Regardless if a new restaurant manager might actually follow, for once, the written rules and requirements of the restaurant concession agreement, Manhattan River Group should have nothing to do with it.  The concession license agreement must be terminated and re-bid (as happened with the prior operator in 2007), or assigned (as was done with the New Leaf Cafe concession a couple years ago).  And the SLA must complete their process and strip the license from MRG without interference.
 
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SLA will soon decide on the fate of the liquor license

 
Should a new operator be assigned, separate from any MRG association, remember that the basic requirements of the agreement as written and binding include:
 
  • No Concerts, No Ticketed Events, No Bottle Service.  None of these uses are allowed in the agreement as approved uses, which is not surprising for a public waterfront site.  Concerts are specifically called out as “strictly prohibited”/
  • No Late Hours.  The agreement is clear, open til 11 pm Sun-Wed, and 12:30 am Thurs-Sat.  Logical given that the site is near a residential neighborhood and in a park.
  • Summer-Only Operating Season.  The agreement allows for a concession from May to October. That’s it.  The concession license as written does not allow for off-season events.
  • No Valet Parking.  The approved site plan has no parking on site.  There is a parking lot adjacent, on Parks land, but that lot is open to the public for regular street parking.  To reserve it for the restaurant, it would have had to have been included in the Licensed Premises (as was done for New Leaf Cafe), which was not the case here.  Or a separate agreement could be drawn up following all rules and procedures for issuing a public concession.  
  • No Outdoor Music after 10 pm. This is in the agreement but also comes from the NYC Noise Code and is common to all Parks. (For example, SummerStage in Central Park)
  • Public Access.  Per the agreement, the facility cannot be closed to the public without special permission and weeks of advance notice.  It is parkland and supposed to be accessible, which it was often not since opening.

Furthermore let’s remember that there are TWO concessions here, restaurant and marina.  And the Marina aspect of what is one of only two public marinas on Manhattan Island has been sorely neglected since the concession opened in 2012.

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Jet skis at the federally-funded dock for large boats.

To recap, see this earlier post that talked about the incomplete marina.  It also helps to review the original 2007 winning vision by Manhattan River Group for a large full-service marina serving 200 vessels.  That’s not a typo — the schedule really called for 200 moorings after 10 years.  MRG won the RFP for the concession largely based on their proposed marina that would “be overhauled and re-established to concentrate on moorings as the primary means of storage… in the winter the entire site, including the restaurant, will be taken apart and stored, and all available upland will be utilized for the winter storage of boats.”

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Promised seasonal moorings, never built.

MRG will offer mooring customers a level of service surpassing other area marinas.  Primarily, the Manhattan River Club Marina will be the only mooring field in Manhattan offering launch service.  Basic services will include quality laundry facilities (machines and maintenance outsourced to CoinMach, an established vendor in this area), clean showers and restrooms, a ship store complete with supplies, ice and refreshments, catering services provided by Costera, dinghy rental, and in-water cleaning/detailing service.  We will also seek to provide potable water delivery, remote hose-down, and remote batter charging services for moored vessels.

The marina agreement was then based on this RFP and requires, in writing:

  • A full-service marina for the use and enjoyment of the general public.  Required components include mooring, docking and launch facilities.
  • 24/7 Access.  As a marina, it was expected that there would be seasonal and transient moorings and docks.  Any boating customer was to have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week between April 16th and October 15th.   
  • Mooring Dinghy.  From 8 am to 11 pm, every day during the above season, a dinghy would be staffed to take boaters to the moorings.
  • Marina services.  This included a boat pump-out station for sewage, use of the concrete ramp for $50, kayak storage, winter boat storage, etc.   
  • Beach Maintenance.  The marina operator must maintain the small beach next to Dyckman Pier as a small-craft launch site, free to use and free of litter.                  
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Federal program that paid for the transient marina infrastructure

To raise funds to build the docks and marina services, Manhattan River Group and Parks won a federal grant in 2011 from US Fish & Wildlife for $669,286 of taxpayer money.  This grant created additional obligations, specifically for transient vessels over 26 ft long that would visit for up to but not more than 15 days:

  • Build a dock and moorings for 100 vessels.  80 of these were to be for transient vessels.
  • Pumpout, electric and water hookups for 20 transient vessels.  This is critical since large boats require such services  if they are to visit.
  • Add security for the docks.  Most often this means a gate with an electronic key.
  • Restrooms, showers and laundry.  For visiting boaters to use when docked.

None of this happened by the time the concession opened in 2012. Parks seemed content to let things slide through 2013 and then a dock appeared in 2014 that could host 20 vessels in slips, plus a slip for a launch dinghy, and 14 more vessels across the front.  A couple moorings were on site but not deployed.   When Fish & Wildlife came to inspect in 2015 they were not pleased, finding that the marina restrooms were in fact now nightclub restrooms, the shower was marked “employees only”, there was no laundry, no hookups, no dock security, no pump-out and poor access. More time passed and it took until 2017 for the BIG grant conditions to be met (meaning these requirements now run until 2037). 

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Sailing school vessels docked at the transient dock

Note that the grant was adjusted slightly due to a decrease in moorings, now numbering only 20 transient moorings down from the originally funded 53 (and originally proposed 200 in the RFP).  Combined with the dock there is now space for only 54 transient vessels – and it’s not even clear that any boat ever used any of them for a multi-day stay.  Instead the moorings would sit empty while the dock would fill with jet-skis and boats under 26 ft, vessels that are not supposed to be even using the dock!

So besides maintaining these 54 transient spaces, the services, the restroooms, laundry, showers, dinghy service and access, there is still the obligation of seasonal tie-ups.  La Marina posts rates, per their contract, for seasonal dock space but has no seasonal dock (the transient dock cannot be used for seasonal boats per the terms of the BIG funding, or technically even the popular sailing school)   There are no seasonal moorings actually installed, just the 20 transient ones.  In other words, most of the marina is still missing.

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Greatly reduced transient mooring field finally installed in 2017

Finally, in addition to the marina, there is the lingering question of the “eco-dock“.  This was funded by former Council Member Robert Jackson and former Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in 2012 to provide additional community waterfront access and programming.  Plans were even drawn up in 2013.  It was never built.  Where is it, where are the funds, and what are the obligations for any new concession operator?

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Closed gates of Dyckman Street Boat Marina, aka La Marina

Restoring Dyckman Marina means restoring the concession to its legally binding contracts.  It means removing Manhattan River Group based on their past actions, bringing in a new operator via assignment or RFP, and making sure that operator follows exactly the approved and written concession agreements for the Restaurant and the Marina.  After seven years of problems and unmet promises, anything less for the Inwood community would be madness.

 
 
 
 
 


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Shuttered, Shunned and Suing

“When a bar manager is able to traffic and sell these types and quantities of narcotics from within an establishment it is incredibly alarming, and it is evidence of the serious threat that this establishment poses to the health, safety, and welfare of its patrons and the community” 

– Christopher R. Riano, Counsel to SLA, December 2018

Well that only took seven years.
 
Finally spurred to action by a massive drug bust, the New York State Liquor Authority held a hearing in December of 2018 and issued a stunning rebuke to La Marina’s wild ways.  You can watch the video here  (jump to the 23 min mark).  Bluntly rejecting the Pinnochio-esque claims of the concession operator, the authority panel decided to close the facility immediately with an emergency temporary suspension of their liquor license.
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It will be determined in early 2019 whether or not this suspension becomes permanent.  But in the meantime, the Community Board wasted no time in passing their own judgment before the year ended, issuing a resolution calling on the Parks Dept to rip up the concession contract and start over with a new operator.  (Evidently they had tired of being lied to after previously supporting La Marina over resident concerns in 2012, 2014 and 2016).
 
Alas, where are La Marina’s powerful friends who protected their operations lo these many years?  Not a word about the summer health violations, fall police bust or winter license suspension was said by any of Inwood’s elected officials, which seemed a little odd given the effusive political cover they provided the concession in the pastCouncilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, for example, held and attended many events at La Marina over the years. His fundraiser/birthday party was hosted there as recently as August 2017.  He could always be counted on to take the concession’s side over the concerns of residents, and yet has been oddly silent this year.  Might running for Public Advocate have something to do with ignoring photos like this one, or this one?
 
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Perhaps realizing their luck had run out after the prominent de Blasio donor corruption trials stripped them of any remaining allies, La Marina decided to go on the offensive.  They launched their own lawsuit against New York City in November 2018, after the police drug bust but before the SLA suspended their liquor license.  It was not publicized at the time, and the city certainly kept quiet about it (perhaps out of embarrassment, one has to wonder).  The concession claimed that having to follow the rules of their license and no longer offer ticketed concerts or valet parking was an interruption in their business, and thus sued the city for damages of two million dollars.
 
So if you’ve been reading the articles and looking at the photos on this website over past summers, you will recognize the three-step process as thus:
 
1) Regularly violate concession license, city regulations and state and federal statutes in order to operate improper activities such as valet parking on public streets and late night ticketed concerts on public parkland.
 
2) Reap enormous profits for seven summers from above said activities while filing oddly inconclusive revenue reports.
 
3) Once rules and license are finally enforced normally, claim lost income from profitable, non-reported improper activities and sue city for …not enforcing the rules in the first place?
 
The arguments contained in the court documents make very little sense if you know how the concession really operated — the valet parking had “little or no adverse effect on the local community”, ha ha  — but given their repeated lies and years of mismanagement, don’t count on Parks’ lawyers successfully defending your hard-earned tax dollars.
 
And by the way, wouldn’t suing the City of New York when you are in the midst of various raids and regulatory actions be something of a no-no?   And why has the license not been terminated outright by now anyways?  How is the concession agreement even still active?  It’s not like Parks doesn’t have the right to terminate for any number of reasons:
 
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At least 2019 will be interesting.  Will Dyckman Marina be restored to its proper uses, finally?  Happy New Year!
 
 
UPDATE – turns out that La Marina filed for bankruptcy in December also.  That’s right, one of the most profitable concessions in the entire city somehow managed to run out of money and now only has $1,000 in the bank while owing $600,000 to creditors.  Note that this also put them into 180 day protection, which may stop Parks from terminating the concession.  
 
 
 


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Top 5 Parks Department Fails

Thank you for reporting your concerns and observations. We will continue to address issues as they arise at the licensed premises, and appreciate your patience in awaiting a response from Parks.”

– Melissa Goldberg, Director of Concessions Compliance, Dept of Parks, September 2013

As La Marina starts to buckle under the failed inspections and corrective actions generated by seven seasons of unchecked breach-of-contract operations, it’s worth taking a look back at the Top 5 epic fails by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. After all, they were ultimately the ones responsible for this concession during a stunning period of incompetence, willful blindness and civic corruption. Read on, and then comment if we’ve missed any of your favorite mismangement moments.
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1. Valet Parking
It’s not even a contest when it comes to the number one fail. The enormous and completely insane valet parking was just so blatantly and obviously illegal, and yet operated in plain sight, every single summer evening, for two five six seven years. Where else in the city could a Parks concession steal public parking places on parkland and on city streets, park in No Standing Zones, and run a cash business with no concession agreement and no legal authority whatsoever?

 

To recap, the RFP included no parking areas, and the concession contract limited the premises to what is inside the metal fence, plus the pier and beach (which La Marina is supposed to keep clean.) Just before opening, La Marina begged Parks to have DOT change the parking signs in the surrounding streets from regular alternate side parking to a bizarre NO STANDING zone after 6 pm, under the excuse that this would free up space for taxis that were coming and going, or maybe valets running cars back to local garages. DOT shamefully complied soon after opening. La Marina also asked Parks to use the Parks-owned cul-de-sac at the west end of Dyckman Street, which contained a dozen public street parking spaces, exclusively for a valet service. Parks said no and then yes, provided that they keep the entire north side clear as a fire lane and access to the beach clear.  (Note that this was illegal for Parks to even offer).  La Marina still ignored this and did neither while Parks looked the other way. They, and several other city agencies, also let the valet spill out to include all of Staff Street, over a thousand feet away!

 

The really crazy thing is, Parks never had the legal right to unilaterally turn over their own property, never mind several blocks of public street. Allowing the private use of public land for compensation is called a “concession”, and there are rules for them which Parks never followed.

 

The valet parking froze traffic for blocks around, and attracted cars from across the tri-state who would sit for an hour to try to get to the valets at the end of Dyckman Street. Even the highways would sometimes be blocked. It’s not like the problem went unnoticedendless meetings, letters and other communications were made with the Parks Department but every time the blame for the traffic was always on someone else – DOT, NYPD, the other restaurants on Dyckman…

 

Finally, after a drunk driver crashed into parked police cars while officers were literally in the process of writing up a La Marina summons for “over servicing”, Parks had no choice but to cave in and inform the concession that the valet was “prohibited” in July 2018.

 

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2. Not a Concert!
It’s not every day you need to take a dictionary to a Parks Department meeting, but for several years you’ve needed one. The RFP and the final concession agreement were both quite clear that concerts would be “strictly prohibited”. And yet Parks would claim, over and over:

 

We do not consider events that include music as part of the overall experience, and are not promoted as only a musical performance, to be prohibited.

 

This was high comedy but not funny for the neighborhood that had to absorb 1,500+ concert patrons stumbling out at 1 am every summer weekend. Every year there would be a concert series. There was an HBO concert special. Tickets were sold for upcoming concerts. For heaven’s sake, La Marina’s own Facebook page says they are a concert venue with concert-style sound. Of course they were concerts, and they were prohibited.

 

Related to these semantics was the equally infantile inability of the Parks Dept to read the words “All amplified music at the Licensed Premises must cease at 10:00 pm” written into the contract. This is not just a concession rule for this site, it’s a citywide rule. There is simply no way around it, and Parks knew this right from the beginning. But under pressure from the operators to hold concerts past 10 pm, Parks spokespeople would dance a jig and claim that the concession had put in a new sound system that would ensure “sound doesn’t leave the property”. Which unless you are bending the laws of physics is rather hard to do when the stage is outside. And so this deception carried on for seven years, with Parks pretending that the concerts did not go past 10 pm when of course they did.

 

Eventually Parks heard the music and realized they had made a grevious error that put them in legal jeopardy. Parks finally put an end to the ticketed outdoor megaconcerts in July of 2018.  (Update – they continued holding slightly smaller, still-unauthorized concerts inside a new, also unauthorized greenhouse.)

 

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3. Bikini Palooza / PCBlast (tie)
Some of the events held at La Marina were well-meaning even if not permissible. A few planned events (like an outdoor boxing match) were so clearly outside of the rules that they were cancelled by Parks before they could even be held. But many, many of the events were parties that were so ill-advised it is mind-blowing Parks allowed them to happen with zero consequences for the concession. The 9AM Banger, the Heineken festival and the BrunchBounce megacrowds were all infamous. But the very worst of the bunch were Bikini Palooza and PCBlast.

 

The Bikini Palooza party itself on July 2, 2017 was a typical megaparty– thousands of patrons, DJs on the stage, alcohol flowing. You can see a video recap here. But the advertising was the worst yet (which is really saying something) — post after post on social media with extremely sexist images. After community complaints Parks made the bold move to… change the name to Beachwear Affair. The event ended up so overcrowded that the NYPD had to shut down the site, triggering an SLA violation that as of December 2018 is still awaiting a hearing.

 

PCBlast (Litty Edition) was not a concert event but a strange hosting of anarchist auto enthusiasts who liked to wear masks and set off smoke bombs as they raced at tracks and partied at clubs. There are several videos featuring the cars firing smoke flares down Dyckman Street and being rolled right onto the La Marina premises, then late at night revving their engines as they peeled out. How was this ever a good idea for a concession operating on public parkland? (A: It wasn’t).

 

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4. The Missing Marina
The La Marina concession is actually comprised of two separate contracts — a restaurant and bar operation, and a marina operation. They each have their own boundaries, so those can be hard to follow given how the site was constructed, but they were intended to be separate and significant uses that would share the site.

 

Go back to the original RFP and look at this language regarding the marina:

 

Parks is seeking proposers with a solid background in the marina services industry to operate a high quality marina. Parks would like to see this site developed into a first class destination that draws visitors from all over the area while providing a convenient service to the public.

Additionally, Parks will look favorably upon proposals that include a storage area for kayaks and canoes. This storage could be offered for a fee. Parks will also look favorably upon proposals that include the installation of a floating launch.

 

And when Manhattan River Group won the RFP with a combined bid for both the restaurant and marina concessions, they promised a marina operation that would include “launching services, a 22-slip dock, limited short-haul space, a ship store, a new-boat showroom, facilities for mooring customers, offices and sailing school”. They also promised to make agreements with the marina across the river in Englewood Boat Basin to handle all boat maintenance and repair (to replace the boat maintenance that was on site at Dyckman Marina under the prior operator).

 

The bid also proposed that the marina would “concentrate on moorings as the primary means of storage” for up to 300 boats stretching from the site down to the GWB, serviced by a launch. There would be 130 moorings by 2018.

 

In the winter, 50 boats would be stored on site. Canoes and kayaks would be stored year-round in the existing quonset hut. All of this would all be accessible for community events, free kayaking (with a partner nonprofit group), boat rentals, bike rentals, river ecology tours, a greenmarket and annual festivals.

 

Wow, sounds great. So what actually happened? Well, over $600,000 of taxpayer money was awarded to the site in 2011 to build the docks and moorings. A further $700,000 of taxpayer money was awarded in 2012 for a community EcoDock.

 

And yet, despite that lovely accepted RFP bid, despite the contract, despite the $1.6M public dollars, nothing at all was built when the facility opened in 2012. By 2014 the 22 slip dock appeared for clubgoers. The sailing school arrived only in 2015.  But no EcoDock, no launch, no boat showroom, no ship store, no boater services, no kayak storage, no winter storage and no community boating festivals have ever appeared — they were squeezed out by the unapproved concert and nightclub uses.  A few transient moorings appeared and that was it.  Even a stern letter from the Federal Government over the missing marina did not result in the marina being fully completed.  In other words, the “marina” part of “La Marina” is still missing after seven years, and Parks has never done a thing about it. They should all walk the plank for it.

 

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5. Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll
La Marina is a Parks concession on public waterfront parkland. Take a look at any of its peers on Instagram — Here’s Battery Gardens way downtown. Here’s the Boat Basin Cafe and Ellington in the Park on the west side. This is Vivo Mediterranean in Queens. How about the Vanderbilt in Staten Island? All of these social media streams are filled with images of wedding parties, waterfront views, diners posing with their food, and so on. And then there is La Marina. How could Parks have ignored for seven years the thousands and thousands of posts and images of what is clearly concert and nightclub activity that violates the contract?

 

If Instagram wasn’t their thing, maybe the Parks compliance staff could have noticed the numerous YouTube videos with concert promos, stripper brawls, concert recaps, drug use, headline performances, etc. starring their Dyckman Marina concession.

 

Was Parks really unaware that one of their flagship eateries was mentioned in over a dozen extremely explicit lyrics about violence, guns, drugs, sex and more? Or that the site itself appeared in several explicit music videos? Not exactly something you see every day for a public facility, in any city, anywhere.

 

And then there were the promotions that violated the sexual content rules of the contract, every single year. The “best bikini contest” matter, followed years later by the “Bikini Palooza” fiasco. The “BrunchBounce” bouncing butts. The multiple posts about the bottle service girls. That whole naked-woman season opening countdown thing. Every time, Parks spokespersons would say they would remind the concession to control its promoters, that such issues would never happen again, and then of course they would.

 

There was a violent shooting in 2014. Parks never said a word about it. There was a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2017. Not a peep from Parks, despite language in the concession agreement about such matters being a cause for default. An explicit fail, in more ways than one.

 

 

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Honorable Mentions
So many to choose from. There was:

 

Smoking, hookah and a whole lot of weed at a public park facility in a city where smoking was banned at all city parks. The hookah revenue was even reported so the city could take their cut!

 

– Reporting a modest revenue to rent out the beach to promoters, who would then turn around and sell thousands of tickets while hiding that revenue from Parks. Since all revenue was supposed to be reported and a percentage paid to the city, this may have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over seven years.

 

– Bottle service that kept the public from sitting at the patios, and serviced the concertgoers with $3,000 VIP packages. Parks admitted way back in 2012 that “designated areas of the event space at La Marina offer a bottle fee, which Parks did not approve” and yet the Ace of Spades kept flowing.

 

Multiple events every year where a public parkland facility would be covered in alcohol brands for various events. The concession contract had a two page rider about what to put in the vending machine, and very explicit bans on any brand advertising, and yet it was ok to cover the site in banners for Ciroc? Heineken? Johnny Walker? D’usse? And so many more.

 

– Constant lying about capacity of the facility. Go back and review every public meeting and article that a Parks spokesperson has ever been quoted in. Not once has the true permitted capacity of 2,094 ever been stated properly. And Parks even allowed La Marina to operate for their first summer without a Public Assembly permit. (Just try that with any building not protected by government corruption and see how that goes.)

 

– Creative use of the new Greenway bike and pedestrian path as a bouncer line. The moment the new path opened in 2014, La Marina saw a convenient way to get those pesky bag searches and bouncer lines away from the restaurant gate — by cutting in a new gate and turning the bike path into their private party queuing area. It was even handy for driving the DJ right to the stage. Parks never said a word.

 

 

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And Finally…
The above is a photo of the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center. Built by Robert Moses, this was a popular attraction in Inwood Hill Park that was used by generations of young families. It had a ranger station, restrooms, and a charming collection of snakes and turtles who would occasionally escape. The Nature Center was flooded and damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a few months after La Marina opened.

 

As of 2018, La Marina has raked in at least $35M in revenue with their illicit concert events, valet parking, alcohol promotions and more. Meanwhile, the Nature Center sits in ruins, awaiting slow reconstruction and a possible re-opening in 2020. These two facts are difficult to accept when the same agency was responsible for both facilities. The fact that the Parks Dept managed to do all of the wrong that they did at La Marina while not even bothering to fix the one-room nature center within 7 seven years is an unbelievable abrogation of their public duties. For shame.

 

Restore Dyckman Marina.

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Some of the 2018 concerts held at La Marina that the operators claim are not, in fact, concerts. Note that some of these were cancelled after the July 13, 2018 multi-agency raid.

More hall of shame:


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Isolating the Problem

“No violation of the health code is ever acceptable; and we are doing all we can to reassure the Department of Health that we are and will continue to be compliant with its rules and policies”

– Manhattan River Group to A Walk in the Park NYC, July 18 2018

So this was the day the music died. Also apparently some flies and maybe a sewage pump. La Marina closed its doors for an entire summer weekend, meaning for the very first time since 2012 there were no concert events, no late night music and no rowdy crowds on the western end of Dyckman Street.
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But first, a little history. Remember that La Marina is an NYC Parks concession, and when the bid for the concession was approved back in 2009, the space was proposed as a marina and cafe. Parks officials testified at hearings that there would be effectively no change from the prior cafe use, so no environmental impact study was required to assess things like traffic because “we don’t think there’s going to be a particular traffic impact based on the concession.” Plus, the Parks official said “any concerts with amplified music requires the prior written approval of the Parks Department; and the concessionaire has operating hours… we are very conscious of the fact that no one creates a disturbance.”
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Then, after the ownership group changed the capacity was quietly increased from 300 to 1000 on the SLA application, causing an outcry and a response from Parks that the capacity would be cut back to 500 “because the community said the larger eatery and bar would disturb the neighborhood’s quality of life”.
What finally opened later in 2012 turned out to have 594 seats (294 in the restaurant plus 300 more on the patios)…. plus a little surprise in the form of an additional 1,500 capacity beach concert facility replacing the former second cafe.
And, despite parking not being shown on the site plan, nor included in the premises defined in the contracts, somehow a massive valet parking operation appeared that took over both the Parks Dept parking lot at the end of Dyckman, and several blocks of public streets, without any legality whatsoever. This is what went on for six years, evety summer weekend. With predictable results.
Until July 13, 2018. That Friday night, a number of city agencies inspected La Marina and issued 90 violations. The health dept inspection alone triggered an immediate closure after racking up an astonishing 74 points. The gates were promptly shut and did not reopen until Wednesday, July 18. The closure was described to the public as being for “emergency repairs”.
Since opening, the Parks Dept and concession operators had consistently denied that they were the ones gridlocking half of Inwood on summer weekends. Blame the NYPD. Blame DOT :
“Parks has also been coordinating with NYPD and the NYCDOT to see what street network or traffic controls can be put in place to alleviate area congestion.” – Melissa Goldberg, Director of Concessions Compliance, September 2013
Blame all the other restaurant-clubs along Dyckman (aka Alcohol Alley). Blame anyone, just not us:
The traffic pattern on Dyckman Street is really messed up. It was not designed to handle the number of vehicles coming into the area. In addition to La Marina, there are now a number of spots on and around Dyckman that are drawing crowds, which leads to traffic. – Jerald Tenenbaum, April 2014
Until now it had been impossible to disprove this claim, since La Marina held concert events every single summer weekend. There was the occasional rainstorm that might cancel an event, but on those nights the rest of Dyckman was naturally quiet too. Which made July 14 and 15 such amazing lab experiments. What would happen in the middle of July if the weather was warm and the restaurants were overflowing but there were no dayparties, no night-time concerts, and no thousands of patrons crowding La Marina?
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Dyckman Street was booming (quite literally) on both Saturday night (all photos from 10:30 pm) and Sunday early evening (all photos from 6:30 pm). And yet while the sidewalks were packed and there was certainly traffic, it moved quickly and easily, with no backups.
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The multiple NYPD traffic cops assigned to the area every weekend (at taxpayer expense) had so little to do they just sat in their car – there was simply no traffic jam for them to manage.
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Meanwhile the rest of Dyckman was quiet and empty of vehicles, a very different scene than what usually would be the case with La Marina open.
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Vehicles exiting the highway could again use Henshaw, which also took pressure off the Broadway intersection.
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Street parking spots along Staff Street were restored to regular use by residents and restaurant patrons instead of being seized by valets for cash as happens during big concert events at the concession.
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The exit from the southbound highway and turnaround at the end of Dyckman was also free of congestion from the totally-not-legal valet parking that occurs whenever La Marina is operating.
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No cars were seen parked illegally on sidewalks or in the No Standing areas as they are when La Marina is open and hosting events.
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And no cars or bouncer lines were observed blocking the Greenway bike path either.
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While traffic may have been lighter, the area was certainly not derelict and filled with crime, drug dealing, prostitution and car racing — as the concession operators liked to claim it was before they opened. On July 14th and 15th the Dyckman Street area looked simply like a neighborhood that was functioning as a neighborhood should.
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While La Marina has re-opened (although stay tuned!) do not forget the beautiful, neighborly weekend of July 14-15. There can now be no doubt as to what causes the chaotic traffic, the noisy crowds and the late night combination of both during the summer — it is the unapproved, breach-of-contract and wildly improper use of the Dyckman marina concession as a concert venue and nightclub, with its corresponding demand-inducing and extremely illegal valet parking operation.
Restore Dyckman Marina to its original intent and approved uses, now more than ever.


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Fact-checking La Marina

“Clearly, we will have to do more to show you what La Marina is all about.”

– Letter to CB12 from Manhattan River Group, April 2018

At the April 2018 Community Board 12 meeting, a remarkable thing happened — the members of the community board voted against the renewal of La Marina’s liquor license.

summerfest

This license comes up for renewal every two years. Past renewals had brought plenty of complaints, but each time some new excuse was made or stipulation added (vague non-binding obligations like “not blocking traffic” that were utterly unenforceable) and then the renewal would sail through while absolutely nothing actually changed. In 2014 for their first renewal, a nervous La Marina even had four elected officials and the precinct commander sign a form letter they drafted for them, in order to put pressure on the CB, Parks and the SLA.

But after six years it appears the community board members have had enough of the problems (documented on this site but especially related to concerts, late-night crowds and traffic) and wanted some improvement from the status quo. How did this change come about?

Aug 6 traffic from hip 2

When the licensing committee did not support the renewal earlier in the month, the operators of the concession lobbied the members of the community board before the general board meeting by sending all of them a remarkable letter filled with claims and boasts. The problem is that many of them were less impressive upon closer inspection, and the letter may have been the final straw in the community’s tolerance for insanity (i.e. doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results).

letter to cb12 page1

Let’s go through the highlights of the letter one at a time, fact-checker style:


La Marina is one of the largest employers in the area.

Partially True. La Marina only operates publicly from the end of May through September, so while they do have many employees they are almost all seasonal hires and only working for four months. Some of the staff are provocatively depicted on social media in an extremely sexist manner, while others are there as part of a massive security apparatus not usually typical of restaurants located on parkland. The other employer-related note not mentioned in the letter is the 2017 sexual harrassment lawsuit by a former bartender.
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La Marina actively supports our community through direct funding and free access:

Partially True. La Marina hosts some community events. But not nearly as many as they promised in their winning RFP response, and their beach and waterfront access has been limited to a tiny fraction of weekend time so as not to conflict with any revenue-generating concerts. Since they are located on public parkland they are actually required to provide free access, and their agreement also requires activities like the sailing school. Claims about “direct funding” require more documentation. In any case, this boast is not relevant to the problems that occur when they are NOT hosting community events.

La Marina is one of NYC’s premier event venues, and the only large venue in our area:

True, which is the problem. With its legal capacity of nearly 2,100 (which in practice is often exceeded) La Marina is not just a large venue, it is one of the largest nightclubs in the entire city. Only it was never approved as such until just before they opened, when the capacity was declared to now be 500. It was later revealed the actual capacity was 1,800, then finally determined to be over 2,000. And that’s the point. Many problems stem simply because they are much larger than they were ever supposed to be in the RFP or plan approval stage.
And no, this is not about hosting weddings or bat mitzvahs. The corporate events can be a little trickier when alcohol is involved, and the less said about film shoots the better, but the real issue is hosting the dozens of concerts. And these guys:
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La Marina is in good standing with the SLA.

Misleading. La Marina is claiming that the two 2017 violations are “false”. This includes denying that the NYPD shut the concession down on July 2, 2017 for being oversold for the Bikini Palooza event (an event so inappropriately advertised that Parks forced a renaming to Beach Wear Affair after community complaints). But until the hearings are held on the two active violations it is misleading to say that the facility is in ‘good standing’.

letter to cb12 page2


La Marina did NOT cause more than 2,000 311 calls last year, as has been widely circulated.

Misleading. Police have stated at licensing committee meetings that there are many 311 and 911 calls coming from the vicinity and Dyckman strip overall. Not mentioned in the letter is that 136 calls to 911 came from La Marina’s address in 2017 — which is quite a bit more significant than the 24 cited 311 calls.

And since La Marina is larger than all of the other businesses combined and a heavy influence on their foot traffic, it is hard to claim complete separation from what happens down the block.


Police data shows that there has been not a single violent incident reported at La Marina over the past 3 years.

Misleading. The reference to 3 years is because in 2014 there was a shocking shooting on the premises. So now if one wants to enter this public parkland one must go through magnetometers, pat-downs and bag-checks. And some violence has occurred in the last three years, as seen in this video of strippers from Starlets fighting at the DJ Camilo concert on June 25, 2017.

La Marina did not block installation of an Eco Barge

Unclear. First of all, the EcoDock was proposed and agreed to in 2012, not 2014. It was also funded to the tune of $700,000 by the local councilmember and borough president at the time. The Waterfront Alliance still lists the EcoDock as coming in 2016. So what happened exactly? The concession operators may have been more interested in the dock when they did not have their own docks yet faced a requirement in their concession agreement to provide them. At the CB12 April meeting, a Parks department representative said that ballooning costs were the reason the dock was not installed. But if so what happened to the funding? Did costs rise because of conditions imposed by the concession operators? More information is needed to explain why the community lost this important potential resource while the federally-funded docks that were installed are used for nightclub guests, jet-skiers, seaplanes and alcohol promotions.

La Marina is in good standing with the Department of Parks and Recreation, is not in violation of our concession agreement, and is not behind on payments due to the City.

Misleading. It is true that when pressed Parks will always say that the concession is operating according to their concession agreement. And yet certain obvious contradictions are clearly unresolved despite six years of promises of “working with the concession”. For example, the concession agreement explicitly bans concerts and explicitly requires amplified music cease at 10 pm:
Concerts are strictly prohibited at the Licensed Premises. All amplified music at the Licensed Premises must cease at 10:00 pm. [Section 10.18]
This language was not a fluke. City regulations require that all outdoor music in parks stop at 10 pm; the exact level of the noise is irrelevant. This is why nearly all concerts in city parks everywhere else in New York stop before 10 pm, even in places far from residents like Summerstage deep within Central Park. Randall’s Island, which is truly isolated from any residential area and hosts premier concerts, still ends all music by 11 pm. So how does La Marina get to say they can play outdoor music till 1 am if they use a magic, never publicly documented sound limiter on their massive outdoor speaker system?
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There is also the matter of the concession agreement as it pertains to alcohol promotions, music videos, sit-down only alcohol service, bottle service, ticket revenue and valet parking (“I highly doubt the legality”, according to DOT). So the “good standing” claim merits further investigation.

La Marina does not operate secretly, or without Community updates.

False. It has been documented many times when La Marina schedules events and does not place them on their website event calendar. Sometimes they suddenly appear a day before, sometimes not. In 2018 alone, the following concert dates (April 21, May 5, May 19, May 20, May 26, May 27, June 2, June 3, June 9, June 10, June 16, June 23, June 24, July 1, July 3, July 4, July 6, July 8 day, July 8 night, July 13, July 14, July 20, July 21, July 22, July 27, July 29, Aug 4, Aug 5, Sep 3 and Sep 8) have all been booked. None appeared on the calendar before May 2, and as of May 10 only two May events appeared. Then, when inquiries were made of the Parks Dept, suddenly all May events were on the calendar while the rest were still hidden, with only a single June event posted as of May 28th . By June 7 most of the June events had appeared but not June 3, June 23 or June 24. It’s a never-ending game.
Note that May 5 was for a boozy dance party at 9 am on a Saturday, while many of the ticket sites list hours long past 10 pm. “Community updates” are not the issue – the concert events are.

Traffic on Dyckman Street was a challenge before we opened and has clearly become worse as the entire area has become a summer destination.The popularity of our business without a doubt contributes to traffic congestion; but that is no reason to shut down La Marina, just as traffic on Atlantic Avenue is no reason to shut down Barclays Center.

False. There are several factual errors in the above. Traffic on Dyckman Street was not so bad before La Marina opened – how could it be when La Marina’s is frequently claiming that it “saved” Dyckman street from drag racers? (Pretty hard to drag race in traffic). Press articles from shortly after opening confirm that traffic changed due to the concession – which is logical considering that La Marina is larger than all of the other bars on Dyckman Street combined. It can also be shown that on rare summer weekends when La Marina does not host a concert (like 2017’s Family Beach Day), Google Maps shows traffic is much better.
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But the real straw man here the is the false comparison to Barclay’s Center. That facility was planned and studied extensively as a large event venue. La Marina was not planned as a large event venue — quite the opposite in fact. Per the 2008 Franchise and Concession Review Committee transcript:
“This is an existing use, previously a [marina] cafe, for at least, I believe, 15 years. I don’t know the exact number; at least the last 10 years. So this is not a new use of this space. Therefore, we didn’t do any [environmental assessment], because typically it is existing use and we know what the conditions that were there before. We don’t think there is going to be any — the concessionaire has offered to work with local garages to make sure that there is valet parking; to encourage people to come by public transportation. And we don’t think there’s going to be a particular traffic impact based on the concession.”
In other words, La Marina was approved as a restaurant cafe as that is what was there before. Not a 2,100 person capacity concert venue. If it had been proposed as a concert venue an environmental assessment would have been done which would have no doubt shown enormous traffic issues for this site and the use as a concert venue would never have been approved in the first place.
Unbelievable, neighborhood-choking, highway-impeding traffic is not a reason to shut down an approved use. It’s a very good reason to shut down an unapproved use.

Our positive impact is ongoing and pervasive in this community.

False.
The impact is pervasive but not all positive. The restaurant and cafe are terrific, the marina docks have some benefit when concerts are not taking place, and the grounds are very attractive and a point of local pride. Everyone likes the fact that La Marina exists as a place to go to for dinner or a date on a quiet weekday or to just explore by the water. But these cannot be separated from the large negative impacts, principally due to unapproved uses as a large concert venue with music past 10 pm and an enormous and illegal valet parking operation.
It seems that after six years of no change, the Community Board has tired of the same misleading and false promises. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Restore Dyckman Marina.


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Fake News Inwood (2018 preview)

“For the coming season, we will work to have staff present for certain events to assess sound levels after 10:00pm

– David Cerron, NYC Parks, Dec 22 2017

poster sep3-2Some say that #FakeNews was invented by Russian troll farms.  Others say it was popularized by Donald Trump.  We in Upper Manhattan know the truth — it has been around since at least 2012, when NYC Parks told us that they had opened a restaurant and marina concession on Dyckman Street.  Residents were told that any claims it it was, in reality, a nightclub and concert venue awash in untraceable cash was #FakeNews.

“Everything is exactly per the lease“, is the usual Parks cry, even when the opposite is true.  Try and tell them that La Marina has music acts that play well past 10 pm, outdoors, under massive speakers?  Oh no — you get back:

La Marina has informed us that after 10:00pm they switch to their internal audio system, which was designed in consultation with a sound engineer. This system has limiters, compressors and other equipment that minimizes the volume and contains sound to the Licensed Premises.

Yeah, whatever.  This website only has dozens of links and photos proving otherwise.  And I’m pretty sure that outdoor speakers rated at 130 dB don’t magically stop sound from crossing property lines.  And don’t forget, they aren’t concerts, they are “experiences that include music“.   I mean, just look at the posters from 2017.  These aren’t for kayak lessons:

It’s a concert venue.  That’s why it’s listed as a concert venue.  That’s why it is literally hosting part of the Red Bull Music Festival for “live music fans”.  Enough with the lies already, you sound like you work for InfoWars.

And let’s not get into the various use of women’s bodies in posters last year either, because Parks swears it won’t happen again …. because La Marina has hired an intern to watch Twitter!   (And it’s never happened before, right?)

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Parks says nothing they can do!

With regard to advertisements, approved promotional material for beach events can be found on La Marina’s website and/or Facebook page. Their website was not functioning for most of June due to a site redesign, which may have contributed to the circulation of unapproved advertisements.

With that said, we agree that the event in question was not promoted appropriately by the event planner – we have expressed this sentiment to the concessionaire, and they have now assigned a staff person to search event-related online posts and ensure they are in keeping with the approved event. There also exist instances where individuals post event related content to social media through their personal account, and this is something neither Parks nor La Marina is able to control.

Just blame it on the website, nice one Parks.  Or blame third parties, who maybe wouldn’t post inappropriate material if there wasn’t inappropriate use of the facilities in the first place.  (Pretty sure no one posts bikini shots of the staff at New Leaf or Battery Gardens).  I guess #TimesUp, but not for La Marina, right?  Despite actual lawsuits

Speaking of lawsuits, I guess the good news is that nobody went to jail last year.  Got pretty close though.

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La Marina’s majority partner pictured with the stars of 2017’s corruption trials.

So what’s next for 2018?  Probably exactly more of the same.  More mentions in civic corruption headlines.  More concerts.  More bikinis and exploitation.  More police officers using tax dollars to babysit an illegal valet operation.  More insane and completely never ever approved traffic madness locking down the entire neighborhood.  But no ecodock.  No children’s menu.  No full-service marina.

Just suck it up Inwood and realize that the law does not apply to you.  After all, once those 30 story buildings arrive it will only be more bumpin’!

 

another pic 1943 attendance aug6

Legal capacity of the beach area is 1500 people.  La Marina does not provide attendance to the city but of course never, ever violates any aspect of their lease.  Any reports of otherwise is #FakeNews!

 

 

 


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Parks gets Litty

“Thank you to the @Nypd 🚔for closing the street down so we can close out the #LittyEdition with the 3 BLOWTORCH SALUTE

 @PC_Blast on instagram July 29 2017

Throughout its six years of existence, perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of La Marina’s operations is the continued use of parkland and city streets for vehicular parking and displays to benefit a private operator.   And all enabled by a compliant NYPD that seems to have no problem assigning scarce officers to babysit club-going traffic.  It’s illegal, it’s bizarre, and it’s in complete plain sight.

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NYPD officer looking the other way while a promotion blocks the street at the La Marina entrance, June 2017

This site has extensively covered the issue of valet parking.   And gridlocked traffic.   And the confusing improper definitions of different property boundaries.  But every weekend, the same script plays out.  The valet staff start coning off regular parking spots and No Standing areas.  Massive crowds attending a prohibited concert event start arriving in the afternoon, many by cab and car.  VIPs get to park illegally inside the gates.  Traffic starts to back up.  And the police spend taxpayer dollars redirecting traffic at various intersections around Dyckman Street to aid cars in getting to the valet and the front door, even if it means reversing or barricading streets.

The police have never explained why a valet parking operation is allowed to operate on a public street, or how a No Standing zone means Nightclub Parking zone.  They just point to the Parks Dept and say they are trying to “allieviate congestion”.

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Sex and autosports, perfect for NYC parkland?

But some events are just a little too hard to explain. How, exactly, did the NYPD view the PC Blast Litty Edition tour event of July 16 at La Marina?  This was a 3-day exotic car tour organized by enthusiasts who enjoy high-performance driving while wearing anarchist masks and firing off smoke bombs.

The first two legs of the tour involved driving laps around NJ Motorsports Park and partying at an Atlantic City nightclub.  That makes sense — racing at a racetrack, then being entertained at a massive entertainment venue.  Hey, you know what would go great with that?  Driving to congested Manhattan to visit a city parks concession for more racing and partying, right?  Which is exactly what they did – La Marina was the official third stop on the tour.

litty on site 8

This was supposed to be parking for kayaks, not racecars.

And so on July 16, 2017 this unbelievable scene took place on Dyckman Street, a public street and highway access route, as a parade of exotic cars was welcomed by La Marina staff to roll onto public parkland as guests of the concession facility.  Ear-splitting revs and thick clouds of smoke, never mind a complete traffic standstill, did not draw seem to draw any attention from the NYPD during the entire event.

What the hell?  This goes way beyond the time La Marina turned into a seaplane showroom, or their misuse of public space for alcohol advertising, or their frequent appropriation of a $3.5M bike trail for a bouncer line (sometimes even used for driving performers to the stage).   This is inviting and condoning activities that belong at a racetrack or Atlantic City onto NYC parkland, and is pretty much the exact opposite of every promise made in the RFP when the concession was awarded in 2009.  In one testosterone-soaked moment it conveys everything wrong with the Parks Dept, and the NYPD’s enabling of their mind-boggling mismanagement.

pc blast litty 1 jul16

The apocalypse, or a Sunday afternoon outside La Marina?

The cars were parked on site, despite it being improper for any cars to park on the site.  They held engine rev contests that night in the middle of a residential neighborhood.   They made a general mockery of the streets of Inwood.  Watch this moment as a La Marina staffer blocks two women with strollers from accessing the park because the exotic cars get priority!

pc blast litty 5 jul16

No Standing zone?  More like No Enforcement zone.

None of these activities would be permitted in another part of New York City, but they are magically allowed in Inwood by Parks and the NYPD?

It is completely insane that a Parks concession is being used for events like PC Blast and other promotions.  Restore the approved uses.  Restore Dyckman Marina.